Sunday, May 9, 2010

Brian Eno 14: Shutov Assembly and Neroli

Despite his recent re-emergence into the vocal field, Eno was still entranced by his own experiments in multimedia art installations, many of which were accompanied by what we’ll still call ambient music. Originally issued two months after Nerve Net, The Shutov Assembly offered ten instrumental pieces, each with titles nine letters long, enabling him to list them on the cover word-search style. The cover also revealed that the music had been created over a period from the mid- to late ‘80s; indeed, most of it picks up where On Land (save the frogs) and Apollo left off.
Taken for background music—for which it was apparently designed, Shutov being the name of a Russian artist who had trouble acquiring Eno albums in the Soviet era, leading the man himself to prepare this compilation—it’s sufficient. Overall it’s more spooky than soothing, whereas the tracks included on the bonus disc with the 2014 reissue, while apparently from the same era, are more in line with the discordant and jarring rhythmic tracks on Nerve Net, and could even pass for further Music For Films.

That said, “soothing” was more what he intended to express with Neroli. In possibly his wackiest concept yet, this hour-long piece was supposedly inspired by an essential oil common to aromatherapy, suggesting that Eno was about to enter the fragrance market. According to the liner notes (ascribed to one C.S.J. Bofop, one of Eno’s more common pseudonyms) it is further suggested that the piece had already been successfully used as an aural salve in certain maternity wards. Adding to our confusion, “Neroli” is subtitled “Thinking Music Part IV”, leaving us to wonder what the first three parts were.
The music is very quiet, a low-end keyboard slowly wandering through what musical experts tell us is a modal scale. To these ears it’s just a minor key improvisation played by a piano in the same muted frequency as a bass guitar, with plenty of sustain. And just when you think it’s over, it starts up again. Like “Discreet Music” and “Thursday Afternoon”, the piece could be considered to be indefinite, though the technology for him to create something like that for people to consume on their own had yet to be invented. (Neroli’s own bonus disc in 2014 contained another single hour-long track. “New Space Music” further extends the Apollo connection, presenting a drone in a major key that’s frankly a lot more interesting than the main program.)

Brian Eno The Shutov Assembly (1992)—3
2014 expanded edition: same as 1992, plus 7 extra tracks
Brian Eno Neroli (1993)—3
2014 expanded edition: same as 1993, plus I extra track

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